Deadly bootleg liquor kills at least 28 in northern India

Deaths from drinking illegally brewed alcohol are common in India because the poor cannot afford licensed liquor

LUCKNOW, India – A bad batch of bootleg liquor killed at least 28 people and sent 160 others to hospitals in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, officials said Tuesday.

Many of the victims were among more than 200 people who had gathered to watch a cricket match Sunday evening in a village about 30 kilometres (almost 20 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow, government official Anil Garg said.

By midday Tuesday, 28 people had died, including 11 in another village farther southwest, police officer Mukul Goel said.

Doctors in Lucknow said that some of those hospitalized were in serious condition and relying on artificial ventilation, and that some had lost their eyesight.

Police arrested the shop owner who sold the 200-millilitre pouches of the homemade alcohol for about 30 cents each. A raid of the shop uncovered large containers of chemicals, which have been sent to a laboratory for testing, district official R.K. Pandey said.

“The symptoms gave a clear indication that these patients were served methyl alcohol,” which despite being toxic is sometimes mixed with ethyl alcohol to make a brew cheaper, said Dr. Kausar Usman, head of the trauma centre at Lucknow’s King George’s Medical College.

Deaths from drinking illegally brewed alcohol are common in India because the poor cannot afford licensed liquor.

Villager Rajesh Kumar, whose two older brothers became ill after drinking the unlicensed liquor on Monday, said the shop in Datli village was well known for selling inexpensive liquor, and that many men came from surrounding villages just to buy the booze.

The state’s highest elected official, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, suspended six police officers suspected of taking bribes to ignore complaints against the shop and its alcohol and announced that a “drive will be launched against those involved in the illicit liquor trade.”

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